At the weekly Juneau of Commerce luncheon, Mayor Bruce Botelho tried to energize members with the capitol project he is spearheading.
"By the Dec. 1 deadline, we have received portfolios from 43 firms," Botelho said. "The firms are from Norway, France, Mexico and all over the United States."
Many chamber members, despite their president's reluctance, shared the mayor's enthusiasm.
"There are three groups of people: people who don't want the capital to be in Juneau, people who don't want to spend any money on anything and people who are afraid of taking any bold undertaking," said Murray Walsh, a land-use consultant. "Let's pledge none of us belong to the third group."
But David Summers, president of the chamber, remains cautious.
"We support any effort to anchor the capital in Juneau but I am not saying that we will support the mayor's project or not," Summers said. "We will closely monitor the progress."
Summers said building a road connecting Juneau to the Alaska Highway is equally important to anchoring the capital.
"We are pleased to see the Assembly list road access to Juneau as one of their top priorities," Summers said. "We hope the mayor will put equal emphasis on the road access."
Some members expressed concerns over the funding mechanism for the new capitol. Botelho estimates a new capitol will cost $100 million.
"When I talked to business people in Anchorage, everyone asked me the same question: who is going to pay for it?" said Ted Quinn, owner of Capital Office Supply, recalling his trip to the Alaska Chamber of Commerce Legislative Priority meeting in Anchorage.
Botelho proposed issuing revenue bonds to finance the project. But the Legislature must agree on a long-term lease of the building from Juneau so the city can use the lease payment to cover the bond debt.
"My goal is to make the Legislature say yes," Botelho said. "This is not an issue we want to see on a ballot."
A nine-member jury will convene this week for the first time to select eight design firms from the 43 applicants. The jury will narrow the group further down to four. By March 2, 2005, the jury will choose a design team out of the four for the new capitol.
Botelho said the timing for the new capitol cannot be better.
"We have a governor that supports Juneau and the economy looks good," Botelho said. "We can't afford not to do it."
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.